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Lessig moves on.
June 22, 2007 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Lawrence Lessig moves on Lessig has spent the last 10 years fighting for IP reform and open culture, He's decided to focus on fighting what he calls "corruption" (with quotes)... the pernicious effect that moneyed interests have in crafting and controlling public policy.
Finally, I am not (as one friend wrote) "leaving the movement." "The movement" has my loyalty as much today as ever. But I have come to believe that until a more fundamental problem is fixed, "the movement" can't succeed either. Compare: Imagine someone devoted to free culture coming to believe that until free software supports free culture, free culture can't succeed. So he devotes himself to building software. I am someone who believes that a free society -- free of the "corruption" that defines our current society -- is necessary for free culture, and much more. For that reason, I turn my energy elsewhere for now.
posted by delmoi (61 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
DUDE'S BOUGHT AND PAID FOR.
posted by quonsar at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think this is too bad. He's an expert in IP; there are other experts already on "corruption." Why throw away your expertise? It's inefficient.

Also, interesting old-fashioned use of "queer" as a transitive verb.
posted by footnote at 8:39 AM on June 22, 2007


As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "Well good luck with all that."
posted by brain_drain at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2007


I think this is great. It's a huge problem; it isn't being dealt with.

Of course, I truly believe that nothing's going to happen until there's some sort of collapse, whether it be a huge catastrophe or something smaller that we can recover from. People deep in a delusional system won't emerge until the real world slaps them in the face....
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:51 AM on June 22, 2007


lupus; yeah, kind of like the way we woke up after Katrina and realized that the government was serving only the moneyed interests and not the actual citizens, and we did something about it.

Oh, wait.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2007 [5 favorites]


Footnote: You are absolutely correct on this one. Here is my take on it.

I think that law professors terrify their students into respecting them. Maybe it's not the result of a conscious effort on the part of the professors. The socratic method is aggressive and intimidating. The language of the 1L canon is so different from what one encounters in the typical liberal arts education -- "last best chance," "promissory estoppel," etc. Moreover, the law seems more demanding than the humanities. The common law gives the impression that there is a correct answer to every legal question. Or at least a more correct answer.

The professors seem to have all of the correct answers. In fact, some of them have written coherent and interesting articles or casebooks that provide those answers. In this strange and scary environment, it is hard not to feel a deep sense of respect and admiration for the professors. For the better professors -- the ones who really are brilliant, or who really have a great presence -- that respect might be amplified to the level of awe.

The problem is that the overwhelming majority of these professors (even the brilliant ones) are not content to be brilliant professors. They want to run the world instead. This means that they end up venturing from subjects in which they are very useful, like specific areas of the law, into subjects where they are basically mere mortals, like politics. As a former law student who has watched this process more than a few times, it is a little disheartening to realize that the legal giants from your 1L year are nothing more than hacks when it comes to politics and government. You feel embarrassed that you held them in such high esteem.

It can actually be inspiring to see Lessig hold forth on copyright issues, and I don't even think I agree with him. But his political views are not particularly incisive. In fact, they would rank as fair-fair/good commentary on some of the better web communities (like Mefi). "Change the system so that people can understand what is better for them! Get rid of corrupting influences!" Meh. We've kind of got a lot of people covering that already.

Lessig is basically Raffi. Raffi did great kids' music. Then he did some adult stuff, which he apparently really wanted to do from the start. But he wasn't as good. He went back to kids' music though. That was better for everyone, I think.
posted by Slap Factory at 9:02 AM on June 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


the pernicious effect that moneyed interests have in crafting and controlling public policy.

Does this mean CC or his movement aren't going to raise any more money to try to promote their policy choices? Or is this another case of "my money is good and clean; their money is dirty and wrong"?
posted by dios at 9:02 AM on June 22, 2007


I well understand the points made here about Lessig leaving the real area of his expertise. But I also understand his frustration with the Powers that Be putting the brakes on the arrival of the future.
posted by Curry at 9:06 AM on June 22, 2007


Also, interesting old-fashioned use of "queer" as a transitive verb.

That's funny, I use/hear that term all the time. I had no idea it was old-fashioned?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:11 AM on June 22, 2007


dios, I think Lessig would probably differentiate 'a group of folks coming together and raising money to support a position' and 'a corporation spending millions of their own profit to rape and pillage their customers', but maybe that's just me.
posted by pupdog at 9:14 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the overwhelming majority of these professors (even the brilliant ones) are not content to be brilliant professors. They want to run the world instead. This means that they end up venturing from subjects in which they are very useful, like specific areas of the law, into subjects where they are basically mere mortals, like politics.

I don't know. Is anybody actually a rock star in politics, both in the sense that they've got piercing policy acumen and are very good at the game? If so, what do these people often have that the average law professor doesn't?

(And aren't a lot of our candidates coming from the world of law?)

That said, I could agree that it sounds like Lessig is going to be tilting at windmills.

Or is this another case of "my money is good and clean; their money is dirty and wrong"?

Maybe he'll try to work out some kind of genuine distinction between money in politics that lends itself to policy discoveries that have society-wide as well as individual benefits vs money in politics that lends itself to narrower-interest benefits.

I'm not saying I know such a good formal distinction exists, but I think it's pretty cynical and quite likely wrong to suggest there's no moral difference in political funding other than whether the money works for or against you.
posted by weston at 9:22 AM on June 22, 2007


Or is this another case of "my money is good and clean; their money is dirty and wrong"?

I think it has to be this. The entire point for Lessig is that he has philosophical reasons for endorsing or rebuking certain behaviors of the government. While he is, of course, himself a "moneyed interest" interested in controlling public policy, he takes it that the results would be more beneficial for the majority of citizens -- the "moneyed interests" he's opposed to are essentially selfish agents with no broader care for the country.

In other words, yes; but he has reasons for calling certain money dirty.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:22 AM on June 22, 2007


dios, I think Lessig would probably differentiate 'a group of folks coming together and raising money to support a position' and 'a corporation spending millions of their own profit to rape and pillage their customers', but maybe that's just me.
posted by pupdog at 11:14 AM on June 22


Of course he would. Which is why I suggested: Or is this another case of "my money is good and clean; their money is dirty and wrong"?

This is the fundamental problem with most CFR warriors. They fall into the trap of bias. This money is good, this money is bad. Or this amount is good, this amount is bad. There is no principled way to draw the lines.
posted by dios at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2007


There is no principled way to draw the lines.

There may or may not be any formal legal way to draw the lines. The fairly simple working definition offered in the thread about narrow vs wide benefits is reasonably principled, if often difficult in application.

I also don't think it's clear Lessig is going to be focusing on campaign finance restrictions. He might. Maybe there's other ways to change things, including creating funding for broader social interests, or working on changing culture so that it's more receptive to certain ideas.
posted by weston at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2007


The problem is that the overwhelming majority of these professors (even the brilliant ones) are not content to be brilliant professors. They want to run the world instead. This means that they end up venturing from subjects in which they are very useful, like specific areas of the law, into subjects where they are basically mere mortals, like politics.

Barak Obama and Bill Clinton were both law professors at one point. So it sometimes works out.

Does this mean CC or his movement aren't going to raise any more money to try to promote their policy choices? Or is this another case of "my money is good and clean; their money is dirty and wrong"?

Did you actually read the whole post? For one thing, I think most of what CC does is trying to convince people to support them and create CC content, something they do pretty well.

I have no idea if Lessig is as bothered by groups like the ACLU or others who generally represent individuals rather then corporations. But what he's complaining about is the fact that governments seem to support policies with no rational basis whatsoever other then the direct benefit of large corporations.
posted by delmoi at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2007


Dios, did you not read the article? It seems is fairly clear that his problem is not with who uses money to control public decision making, but with money controlling public decision making in the first place.
posted by Anything at 9:46 AM on June 22, 2007


Not coincidentally, ten years is also roughly how it's been since deliberation began on the Sonnny Bono act, which extended copyright terms for 20 years. Perhaps Lessig now intends to spend ten years on the supply side of this problem, so that the next time Mickey Mouse comes up for entry into the public domain, he actually wins.
posted by gsteff at 9:47 AM on June 22, 2007


"Lessig is basically Raffi." [wipe up coffee snorted through nose]
posted by twsf at 9:47 AM on June 22, 2007


But a third person -- this time anonymous -- made me realize that I wanted to be one of these many trying to find a solution to this "corruption." This man, a Republican of prominence in Washington, wrote me a reply to an email I had written to him about net neutrality. As he wrote, "And don't shill for the big guys protecting market share through neutrality REGULATION either."

"Shill."

If you've been reading these pages recently, you'll know my allergy to that word. But this friend's use of the term not to condemn me, but rather as play, made me recognize just how general this corruption is. Of course he would expect I was in the pay of those whose interests I advanced. Why else would I advance them? Both he and I were in a business in which such shilling was the norm. It was totally reasonable to thus expect that money explained my desire to argue with him about public policy.

I don't want to be a part of that business. And more importantly, I don't want this kind of business to be a part of public policy making. We've all been whining about the "corruption" of government forever. We all should be whining about the corruption of professions too. But rather than whining, I want to work on this problem that I've come to believe is the most important problem in making government work.
posted by Anything at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is the fundamental problem with most CFR warriors. They fall into the trap of bias. This money is good, this money is bad. Or this amount is good, this amount is bad. There is no principled way to draw the lines.

See, that's just stupid. It would be fairly obvious to anyone that Money raised by neo-nazis for promoting the extermination of Jews would be bad, while money raised for the promotion of helping poor orphans would be good.

The argument that it's "impossible" to tell good money from bad money is absurd. And in any event, I can think of a pretty clear metric to determine what kind of money is bad. I would say:

money from interests who's main concern is making more money.

On the other hand, money raised in order to do other things, like protecting the environment, preserving civil liberties, or conservative causes like gun rights or whatever are not the problem.

Now Lessig may or may not also have problems with interest group money perverting the political process, but I'm not sure. In my view those are not as problematic.

You're making a rather lazy argument that there is no distinction between different types of "money" and I think there is no reason whatsoever not to have a distinction, as long as you're clear about what that distinction is and why you have it.
posted by delmoi at 9:49 AM on June 22, 2007


There may or may not be any formal legal way to draw the lines.

Which is what I was discussing. I assumed--perhaps wrongly--that Lessig would approach this issue with an emphasis on the law. He may be approaching this as pure gritty political fight in which case more power to him.

I also don't think it's clear Lessig is going to be focusing on campaign finance restrictions.


That occurred to me, and I hope that it is true. There are extant and powerful ways to deal with corruption in government. However, for questionable reasons, the discussion on corruption always defaults to campaign finance restrictions. CFR is terrible solution to a problem with an existing solution. CFR is like amputating a leg to deal with an ankle sprain. I hope, and will be interested to see if, Lessig turns his astute legal mind to dealing with the real problem of corruption in politics instead of the fool's errand of campaign finance reform.
posted by dios at 9:49 AM on June 22, 2007


Actually, given how much success Lessig has had in the legal arena on IP issues (skunked at the Supreme Court and not a hint of success on the legislative front), I can understand that he wants to blame the larger system, but that's a little like those political wonks who start advocating that the U.S. needs a parliamentary system whenever their side isn't winning control of the Congress.
posted by twsf at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2007


Dios, I am basically sympathetic to your view. Much CFR doesn't oppose the influence of the self-interested upon politics, but, out of ideological preference for a particular set of outcomes, wishes to handicap one set of self-interested influencers and empower another.

However, more with Weston, I think there's a bit more nuance in what Lessig is saying. Indeed, the influence that Lessig most notoriously loathes -- that of Hollywood on copyright law -- can hardly be described as ideological, insofar as Hollywood and Hollywood money are overwhelmingly Democrat. If the forces behind tough IP laws ran everything, we'd have gay marriage in Mississippi and no troops in Iraq.

I also don't read Lessig as supposing that the self-interest can, or even should, be taken out of politics. Politics isn't a game, and it isn't charity either. It's the means whereby we write laws to achieve ends we can't otherwise achieve. I think what he's striving for is to inject systems whereby contending self-interests are well-mediated and self-interests which tend to be left unexpressed by collective action problems can be expressed and considered.
posted by MattD at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


People deep in a delusional system won't emerge until the real world slaps them in the face....

the people deep in the delusional system are not the ones you think...
posted by quonsar at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2007


There is no principled way to draw the lines.

there's no way the current power structure of this country wants lines like that drawn, so they ensure there is no principled way to draw them

CFR is terrible solution to a problem with an existing solution.

no, it's a good solution to the wrong problem ... the problem isn't that a politician's corporate buddies give him money for his campaigns ... the problem is that we have politicians who mostly have corporate buddies

and the real problem is that the american people keep voting for people who don't really represent them or their interests and are willing to endorse candidates who lie to them and reinforce their delusions ... such as, "we can cut taxes AND keep the same level of service (or keep the services YOU care about)" ... such as, "we can win a war with half the troops we really need to find it" ... such as, "we can live 30 to 40 miles from our jobs and have cheap oil by controlling the countries who pump it" ...

it's not just our politicians who are corrupt ... it's US
posted by pyramid termite at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2007


This is the fundamental problem with most CFR warriors. They fall into the trap of bias. This money is good, this money is bad. Or this amount is good, this amount is bad. There is no principled way to draw the lines.

Even if you grant that identifying which entities should and shouldn't be allowed to make political donations is impossible, which I don't, that doesn't mean that CFR won't work, only that CFR as John McCain defines it won't work. I don't see anything hypocritical about anti-corruption PACs advocating for strong public financing of both congressional and presidential campaigns.
posted by gsteff at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2007


I'd post something about this but I don't want to violate copyright or inadvertently decode somebody's comment and run afoul of the DMCA.
posted by srboisvert at 10:13 AM on June 22, 2007


I think there's a bit more nuance in what Lessig is saying.

Trust me, I am well aware of the argument Lessig is making. We all have our issues that we focus on. The one issue that I have studied in my life to the greatest detail is that of campaign finance reform and money is politics. I am well aware of the arguments that Lessig wants to make. I was sort of sniping at him because he wasn't being anything beyond broad strokes. It's the lack of nuance he presented that is what bugs me.

The fundamental problem is the approach. How will he approach this. If he approaches it from a legal perspective, he will have a whole set of issues that he will need to address. If this is nothing more than a political crusade, then I will be saddened. I would love to see Lessig become involved in the active legal scholarship on the issue. Would he agree with the unintended consequences approach of Prof. Smith and focus on other solutions other than focusing on money? Would he find validity in the solution suggested by Prof. Ackerman? Or would he proceed with further regulations in hopes they succeed like Prof. Corrado? I want to see what he is going to suggest. CFR seems contrary to Lessig focus on liberty. Does he think there is a legal problem? I really, really hope that he isn't just looking at this from a base political point of view to eliminate influence of those he disagrees with in order to improve the likelihood of success of those he does.

These are issues which are interesting. We don't yet know how he is going to approach them.
posted by dios at 10:14 AM on June 22, 2007


I don't see anything hypocritical about anti-corruption PACs advocating for strong public financing of both congressional and presidential campaigns.
posted by gsteff at 12:05 PM on June 22


If the measure is whether it is hypocritical, then this is a boring discussion. If the measure is whether there is an approach that is consistent with the structure of our representative government and the principles embodied in the Constitution, while at the same time fixing the issue that needs fixed without causing unintended consequences (which I would suggest is the measure), then there may be both a policy and legal problem with such a position.

no, it's a good solution to the wrong problem ... the problem isn't that a politician's corporate buddies give him money for his campaigns ... the problem is that we have politicians who mostly have corporate buddies

I disagree. The Supreme Court pretty much nailed the problem. The problem is a political process problem: what is the function of our representative government and is that function not being met because of campaign finance? The issue is whether our representatives are not representing their constituents as per their duty (definition of corruption). The issue is corruption of duty. The mechanism which is most commonly associated with causing that corruption is money. Regulating money does not, by itself, address corruption of duty, nor does it end it. Corruption can be addressed by remedies other than regulating money. Moreover regulating money can and has resulted in unintended consequences that have exacerbated political problems.

It is a little embarrassing to suggest that the problem is corporations and corporate influence, as if they are evil per se. Surely one couldn't take the position that corporations are problematic but, say, unions are not. Surely one wouldn't take the position that a representative that does not do what is in the best interest of his constituents is not corrupt because he listened to one individual as opposed to a corporation.
posted by dios at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


When a Farm Bill which is putatively intended to rescue the family farmer and is debated, marketed and sold as such, is coerced in commitee into an instrument of largesse to big agribusiness to the virtual exclusion of all else, even to the point where it actually harms the family farmer; and the authors of the amendments to that bill to a man received generous campaign support from big agribusiness, we have a corruption problem. But is it big agribusiness' fault for making the contribution, the politician's fault for taking it, or the politician's fault for giving quid pro quo that's violently contrary to the public interest?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2007


Hm, since it hasn't been said

.
posted by cavalier at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2007


Corporations are not people, yet they have speech rights.

It was judges, not legislators, who granted corporations all the civil rights of individuals. I'd be happy if all corporate speech, regardless of its purported content, were treated as commercial speech and restricted as such.

When I say: "our money is good, theirs is bad," I mean: human money is good. Institutional money is, if not always bad, at least suspect.

I'm confident that most other humans will side with me in this.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2007


BTW, I don't see a meaningful distinction between corporations and unions in this.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2007


Regulating money does not, by itself, address corruption of duty, nor does it end it.

Free market economics is an interesting religion. It imbues money will all sorts of magical powers when it comes to solving problems in society, but those powers suddenly don't exist when we start talking about what causes those problems. It seems the market can move mountains, unless those mountains are being pushed onto some people. Then surely it wasn't the market moving them. What Invisible Handism really needs is an Invisible Devil Hand (or maybe that should be a foot?) to explain all these mysterious problems.
posted by scottreynen at 10:51 AM on June 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


It is a little embarrassing to suggest that the problem is corporations and corporate influence, as if they are evil per se.

it's not that they have SOME influence that i find objectionable ... its that they have a huge influence that is the problem ... the ordinary citizen has little voice in our system ... and, when he does have a voice, it's often given to support those who lie to him because he doesn't really want to hear someone tell him the truth, such as "we're going to have to raise taxes"

so i didn't make that suggestion

But is it big agribusiness' fault for making the contribution, the politician's fault for taking it, or the politician's fault for giving quid pro quo that's violently contrary to the public interest?

it's OUR fault for reelecting the guy ... WE are the problem

that's what i'm saying
posted by pyramid termite at 10:55 AM on June 22, 2007


The problem is that the overwhelming majority of these professors (even the brilliant ones) are not content to be brilliant professors. They want to run the world instead. This means that they end up venturing from subjects in which they are very useful, like specific areas of the law, into subjects where they are basically mere mortals, like politics.

posted by Slap Factory at 12:02 PM on June 22


Yeah, law professors are hamstrung by the real world's (including the courts) failure to yield to their brilliance.

But I do see it a little differently: it's not crazy to think that the legal academy could (or in fact should) have some fruitful involvement in policy. But when Lessig couldn't acheive his policy goals in his initial area of academic expertise, instead of asking the important question -- how can a law professor best participate in public policy? -- he decides that the problem is his academic speciality.
posted by footnote at 10:59 AM on June 22, 2007


This feels like Cat Stevens all over again.
posted by Peter H at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2007


I think what he's striving for is to inject systems whereby contending self-interests are well-mediated and self-interests which tend to be left unexpressed by collective action problems can be expressed and considered.

Well, we actually have no idea what Lessig actually wants, other then to fight "Corruption", which he defines by effect, as in the thing that causes government to implement policy in a number of bad ways.

Once he actually describes it, then maybe we can pick it apart and see if it will work. I don't think it's CFR, which I seriously doubt could ever accomplish anything.

I think a lot of the problem, really, is simply the structure of our government. Different people feel different levels of "intensity" about issues. For example, many people might support sex education, but don't really care that much at all. So, what happens is that those who do care a lot are pandered too, and the majority votes for the same politicians anyway because they aren’t informed, or they care about some other issue, or worse, all the politicians oppose sex ed, or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2007


it's OUR fault for reelecting the guy ... WE are the problem

So if someone is corrupt, the appropriate response in your mind is to leave him in office until the next election, then all of us magically agree to unelect him? What if he does it in year one of a six-year senate term? What if the corruption was not properly reported by a compliant press? What if a serial child-cannibal is the only one running against him? I don't like your approach to justice, it seems to have very little to do with law or consequences.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was sort of sniping at him because he wasn't being anything beyond broad strokes. It's the lack of nuance he presented that is what bugs me.

Definitely broad strokes and not much else. However, the way I read his post suggests he might not have gotten beyond that because he really isn't sure what to do yet. He says: "I am beginner. A significant chunk of the next ten years will be spent reading and studying the work of others."

I really, really hope that he isn't just looking at this from a base political point of view to eliminate influence of those he disagrees with in order to improve the likelihood of success of those he does.

Again, there's something here that suggests what he's been working for doesn't have any more value than what those he's been working against want. Maybe I'm just sympathetic to his message, but it seems obvious to me that the limitations he's working for strike a better balance between individual interests and society-wide interests than his opposition. For that reason, I hope that the changes he's trying to effect do indeed further his political agenda. And it's really hard for me to believe that whatever has motivated his last 10 years of work is going to go away, so I think it's quite likely he'll try.

So I think his ends are expanded, not shifted. Will the means change? Obviously nobody really knows yet. But my guess would be that if you've got the temperament that makes you pursue legal scholarship in the way Lessig has, you won't easily walk away from it. You probably can't stop doing it in your head even when you're officially not working on it. :)

instead of asking the important question -- how can a law professor best participate in public policy? -- he decides that the problem is his academic speciality.

Or rather, he's seen that as a law professor, his ability to make an impact on policy is limited. By something he now is interested in seeing about taking on more directly.
posted by weston at 11:09 AM on June 22, 2007


I also don't read Lessig as supposing that the self-interest can, or even should, be taken out of politics. Politics isn't a game, and it isn't charity either. It's the means whereby we write laws to achieve ends we can't otherwise achieve. I think what he's striving for is to inject systems whereby contending self-interests are well-mediated and self-interests which tend to be left unexpressed by collective action problems can be expressed and considered.

Just want to say I really like this summary and think it bears repeating.
posted by weston at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2007


By the way. The major problem I see with our current system is that it's all stick and no carrot. Politicians get no reward for good behavior, and then they get deionized and have to deal with all sorts of hastily thought up proposals that are implemented whenever there is a corruption scandal. Like a lot of laws in this country they are 'patches' designed to fix a leaking boat rather then realistic attempts to root out problems.

One thing I would do is increase lawmaker compensation a lot but the money would go into a bank account they couldn't access until they leave office, and only then if they never get busted for corruption. They longer they stay in office the more reason they have to leave. This would also help keep people from staying in office for too long. Those who just want to cash out would, and those who really care would stay.

That's just one idea, but I really think that we need to think about what kind of incentives we can think of, rather then simply what punishments we can dish out (and the same is true for a lot of laws)
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


What if a serial child-cannibal is the only one running against him?

what if he's a pod person? ... what if he's the antichrist? ... what if monkeys fly out of his ass and kidnap toddlers to be sold in afghanistan?

I don't like your approach to justice

i don't like your approach to argumentation ... build your strawmen somewhere else
posted by pyramid termite at 11:15 AM on June 22, 2007


build your strawmen somewhere else

When white supremacist David Duke was running against Edwin Edwards, former governor tarnished with scandal, you'd see bumper stickers reading "Vote for the crook, it's important."
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:22 AM on June 22, 2007


I can't resist:

Good riddance, Attention Whore.
posted by Peter H at 11:22 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


The one issue that I have studied in my life to the greatest detail is that of campaign finance reform and money is politics.

I think if we're discussing CFR, the limiting of how much we'll let money decree policy, we've already lost.

Free market economics is an interesting religion. It imbues money will all sorts of magical powers

Nuts to that. It suggests people do what's in their own interests in lieu of incentives or taxes that reroute their incentives. Note Lessig's direction dovetails with this in that he suggests the pooling of large amounts of money in certain places has caused the system to produce non-efficient results.
posted by yerfatma at 2:40 PM on June 22, 2007


yerfatma:
It's not so much about the money , as the fact that the system produces a result that is divergent from reality. The money becomes the instrument that causes the divergence. So the real question is, how to develop a system with feedback loops so that you know, policy dovetails with reality.

I know, I know, there is no absolute truth and the answer is in the middle somewhere. Sure. If you have two possible courses ,and in the middle is a rock, the right answer is not, "Split the difference" and hit the rock. The whole "balance" thing is just a convenient rhetorical tool where the speaker doesn't have anything empirical on which to base an analysis.
posted by wuwei at 3:29 PM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have not read the article, I have not even read most of the comments. So take what I am about to write with a grain of salt if you want. I'm guessing it hasn't been covered yet.

People, corruption is not an external to the system, something aberrant which, once removed, will result in a clean and well performing system. Corruption is part of the system. Corruption is structural to politics and to pretty much any resource- and power-based system.

Basically, politics is about the motivation of instruments of political power (i.e. politicians who legally are given the power to take political action through lawmaking). These motivations can take the form of financial or power incentives (i.e. I will give you campaign contributions if you support a bill good for my company; I will vote for your bill if you vote for mine, etc; if you don't vote for this human rights bill we'll make sure the press finds out about it).

In these kind of political interactions, there is the possibility for what economists normally call "rents" -- additional money or benefits to come along. This includes the millions that lobbyist firms get, minor bribes, campaign funds (and the advertising/marketing/etc firms which get these funds) and so on. Politics has become a market, and so long as politicians are elected rather than randomly selected through a lottery, all of these rents will serve as powerful motivations to keep the current system in place. And in fact the current system works as a powerful controller of interests in Washington in the same way that the market in Wall Street governs the prices of stocks. Political actions are given a weight and value and "goods" and "services" are traded for those political actions. None (or, at least, very few) of them are free and all of them have costs, both in terms of making those actions happen, and in what effect those political actions later have.

Remove the "corruption", and all you would have is a bunch of people all politely requesting that the political actor vote their way without any kind of motivator except the assertion that their position is the "right" one. Corruption, in its gross forms and its more subtle ones, allows the political process to actually take place.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:05 PM on June 22, 2007


deathalicious, you sound like a tammany hall politician defending "honest graft" ... you do have a point, but i think you're blurring the difference between corruption, self-interest and horse trading

the problem isn't that different interests aren't "investing" in the "stock market" of political actions ... it's that the ordinary citizen doesn't seem to have a reliable "proxy" to make his investments for him these days
posted by pyramid termite at 8:38 PM on June 22, 2007


Deathalicious: but money doesn't determine power. Votes determine power. And people vote for reasons other than money. Your analysis omits that, so it's not describing a functioning democracy.

Sure, you can say money => advertising => votes, and that's got some weight but it's a reach to say money = power. You can put "right" in "quotes", but that's just rhetoric.
posted by alasdair at 6:11 AM on June 23, 2007


[a few comments removed, please to metatalk for your shitting and namecalling]
posted by jessamyn at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2007


As much as I think Lessig's efforts are needed in the "IP" world, I admire his decision and I think it a wise one. He has determined that in order to advance his long-standing position he needs to confront its fundamental obstacle: The corporatization of policy-making. IP reform and widespread "free culture" aren't going to make significant headway until for-profit corporations are no longer the dominant force in lawmaking. Period. End of statement.

It makes all the sense in the world that Mr. Lessig has decided to tackle the problem. I wish him the best in his endeavors. I do wish he'd chosen a less controversial term than "corruption" for what he intends to address. It's corporatization of policy he's really getting at. While that certainly is a form of political corruption, you're not going to straighten out the crooks in office by calling them names.
posted by majick at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2007


IP reform and widespread "free culture" aren't going to make significant headway until for-profit corporations are no longer the dominant force in lawmaking. Period. End of statement.

But that's a pipe dream. Corporations are always going to be a significant power. The real task (which good political activists understand) is how to find and exploit the openings where corporate power might not be able to always dominate. Or, to fight the small-scale battles to assert your influence in your particular area of interest. I'm at a loss to understand how battling "corruption" so idealistically is ever going to work in practice.

Here's a recent example: Bush's nominee to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission was a shameless industry shill. Consumer groups got together and waged a short public relations and lobbying effort, and the guy withdrew. One small battle, one important win against "corruption."
posted by footnote at 12:11 PM on June 23, 2007


re: carrot/stick & feedback loops w/ 'reality' (or the virtues of being _sane_) as first principles

unoriginally, i'll submit: anti-corruption = pro-transparency + accountability

which btw isn't too different from (a superset of?) his work exposing 'IP' as, fundamentally, an oxymoron

which, incidentally, i believe eben moglen laid the groundwork for (and who is still fighting the good fight)
posted by kliuless at 12:20 PM on June 23, 2007


money doesn't determine power. Votes determine power.

Voters intermittently determine power.
posted by srboisvert at 12:25 PM on June 23, 2007


Voters intermittently determine power.

Well, I'm a supporter of representative government, so I'll agree with that statement: I think it's enough.
posted by alasdair at 12:33 PM on June 23, 2007


Just to be clear: I wasn't necessarily defending corruption, although I know it came across that way. I'm just saying that in the American form of political involvement, corruption is part of the structure of the process, much in the same way that, say, a capitalistic system absolutely depends on there being a sizeable group of poor people -- poverty is a structural component of capitalism, and similarly can't be abolished (ooh, am I gonna get it now!).
posted by Deathalicious at 6:52 PM on June 23, 2007


corruption is part of the structure of the process, much in the same way that, say, a capitalistic system absolutely depends on there being a sizeable group of poor people

I kind of doubt that's true.
posted by delmoi at 10:52 PM on June 23, 2007


I kind of doubt that's true.

I very well could be wrong, but here's my reasoning if you're interested.

In a free market system, most people are motivated to seek employment either by money ("Wow! I can make a pretty decent living as an electrical engineer") or by duress ("If I don't find a job, my family will starve"). In the absence of poverty, the only way to get people to take on jobs that were dangerous and undesireable (say, working in a slaughterhouse) would be to make the wages considerably more attractive than a normal safe job. Remember, if there isn't poverty, it's not enough to make the slaughterhouse job a nice 20k/year career -- because of course these people, not being poor, could easily afford to go to night school for a year or so and then qualify for a safe skilled job paying the same amount. No, working in a slaughterhouse would probably have to pay a huge salary, probably about the salary of a similarly dangerous job like being a policeman. So in a capitalist system without poor people, many important but unskilled and dangerous jobs would remain unfilled or would be so well paid that they would drive the costs of all other goods and services through the roof.

BTW The current solution to the slaughterhouse question is largely being solved by employing illegal immigrants, who are poor (although here this poverty is external to the US's official economy) and also suffer from lower legal status. Unless changes have been made in the past few years that I haven't heard about, slaughterhouses are dangerous, miserable places (read Fast Food Nation). It is pretty good pay, though, for a poor person's job -- it was something like $9-10/hour in 2001 according to the book. But as a non-poor person, I'd never take that job.

That's my logic, but there probably is a hole in there somewhere.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:28 AM on June 24, 2007


So in a capitalist system without poor people, many important but unskilled and dangerous jobs would remain unfilled or would be so well paid that they would drive the costs of all other goods and services through the roof.
But isn't that the key bit? The free market economy restructures itself so that the wages for this work does increase - as you've observed, the slaughterhouse work is well-paid. This extra cost is reflected in an increased price of the good, which will decrease consumption (if the good isn't desirable at the increased price point) or in more being spent on the good (if the good is still desirable to consumers). So either the jobs disappear (because we don't want to pay for them) or the economy dedicates more of its resources to these workers (because we have to). Either of these is a rational solution.

The problem, if we're doing big-scale stuff, is if you have a non-free market - slavery, for example. If the free-market slaughterhouse workers get paid lots there is an impetus for producing mechanisation or more efficient ways of doing their jobs, so society progresses through scientific advance driven by these demands. If non-free-market slaves can't demand more pay for the unpleasant job, there is no drive for progress and better technology to replace them. That's why slave societies never progress.
posted by alasdair at 3:39 AM on June 24, 2007


Shorter Lessig: The copyright debate can go on productively without me; I'm taking my intellect and my hard-won cachet and applying them to bigger problems.

The italicized bit is the key, here: Lessig has been central to building a half-crazed activist network around copyright issues, and (unlike, say, the faintly ridiculous Cory Doctorow) he can walk into a Washington boardroom and command the room with institutional expertise. His decision is a net positive for the world, no matter how small, and more importantly it seems like an authentic gesture of intent.

It's been a tough few years for him, professionally and personally. Hats off to him for doing what feels like the right thing, publicly and in good faith.
posted by waxbanks at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2007


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